Preview: England v Italy
SIX NATIONS ROUND FOUR: England coach Eddie Jones will unleash a powerful midfield pairing of Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi against perennial Six Nations strugglers Italy at Twickenham on Saturday as he explores his options ahead of this year’s World Cup.
It will be the first time the two dynamic ball-carriers, who both have Pacific Islands heritage, have started a Test together, with Henry Slade dropped to the bench to accommodate Tuilagi’s move to outside centre and Teo’s return.
This season has seen Tuilagi make his first Six Nations start in six years after a miserable run of injuries, with the Leicester midfielder in the starting XV for all three of England’s previous matches – including the 21-13 defeat by Wales in Cardiff a fortnight ago that scuppered their hopes of a Grand Slam.
“They’re both very good players,” said Jones, who has also recalled powerhouse right wing Joe Cokanasiga.
The Australian was especially excited by how Tuilagi had coped with opposing speedy England wing Jonny May in training.
“Manu is really starting to come back to where he can be,” insisted Jones. “In training, Jonny May went to go around him and Manu rounded him up. I haven’t seen that sort of acceleration from Manu for a long time.”
Jones said an overtly physical midfield would be important against Italy, for all they have yet to beat England in 24 attempts and are also on a 20-game overall losing streak in the Six Nations.
“In certain games, it’s massively important, then maybe you’re not getting fast ruck ball and the only way to get through the line is by smashing through it,” added the former Wallaby and Japan boss.
“Maybe it’s going to be that sort of game on Saturday. Italy are a difficult opponent.”
Meanwhile, Jones tried to put the Wales defeat in context by saying it was part of England’s evolution.
“The great thing about rugby is you never get there, you are always striving to get there,” he said.
“You are climbing up Mount Everest and you never get to the top, you are always trying to get there and sometimes you slip down a bit.”
It was a view endorsed by England captain Owen Farrell, who insisted he had not been distracted by recent newspaper allegations that he and his club Saracens, the English champions, had broken Premiership salary-cap regulations.
“We’re just concentrating on what’s in front of us,” said the fly-half. “We’re all part of a team that wants to bring more out of ourselves and also enjoy what we are doing.”
England were embarrassed by Italy coach Conor O’Shea’s ‘no ruck’ ploy during an eventual 36-15 win at Twickenham two years ago, with Jones decidedly unimpressed.
The memory clearly rankled judging by his comment on Thursday that “when Italy are allowed to play rugby they are a good team”.
But Jones lauded an Italy back-row featuring No 8 great Sergio Parisse and also hailed centres Michele Campagnaro and Luca Morisi as “good strong, dynamic players” before saying scrum-half Tito Telbadi “played like he was playing for his life against Ireland”.
Victory for Italy, 60/1 rank outsiders to win this weekend, would be the greatest upset in Six Nations history.
They have though been bolstered by the return of skipper Parisse, fit following the concussion that saw him miss the 26-16 defeat by Ireland a fortnight ago – a match the Azzurri led 16-12 at half-time.
“This is an Italy team that’s preparing to win” insisted O’Shea. “Everybody thinks we’re delusional. But we’re sports people, we’re competitive people.
“The big thing is to get the confidence to win and get the energy that comes with that,” the former Ireland full-back added.
“We have to dust ourselves down every time and come back. This is a massive ask but I can’t wait for this weekend.”
Players to Watch:
For England: Wing Jonny May when he gets the ball in hand, is a major headache for any defence. In the middle, Manu Tuilagi, who takes the place of Henry Slade, will have to be in fine form to cement his place in the starting XV. In the pack, Kyle Sinkler along with hooker Jamie George and Ellis Genge will be a very powerful front row for the Italians. Furthermore, the loose trio of Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry and Brad Shields will be hard at work to disrupt the breakdown and hand their side the advantage.
For Italy: The enigmatic No.8 Sergio Parisse received good news and will be available. The captain’s presence certainly brings an extra X-factor to the Italians side. South African-born Braam Steyn is another loose forward that needs to be watched. Steyn’s robust carries are a lethal weapon and posed as a major challenge for England.
Head to Head: The loose trio will certainly be an intriguing one. Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, and Brad Shields versus Italy’s Sergio Parisse (captain), Braam Steyn, and Sebastian Negri. Curry is currently tied for the lead in turnovers won in the championship with four, whilst he has also been thoroughly impressed with his work in the defensive line, hunting down flyhalves and first receivers behind the gain-line. As for Parisse, the Italian captain provides plenty of impact on the pitch and is a thorn in the side of teams at the contact area. At flyhalf, England’s Owen Farrell will want to overturn his lacklustre performance against Wales. If he turns up at Twickenham and plays to his ability, this could be quite a one-sided contest, with his ability to pull the strings in the back line one that Italian flyhalf Tommaso Allan can’t quite match, nor is the Italian flyhalf likely to receive the same sort platform from his pack that Farrell will enjoy. Nonetheless, if Allan can bring the pressure and intensity in defence that Farrell will, there’s a chance he could get to the Englishman and put him off his game, in the same way, Wales did in Cardiff two weeks ago. Do that and he will have a shot at making it a winnable confrontation, but it’s likely to be an uphill battle for the former Scotland age-grade international.
2018: England won 45-15, Rome
2017: England won 36-15, London
2016: England won 40-9, Rome
2015: England won 47-17, London
2014: England won 52-11, Rome
2013: England won 18-11, London
Prediction: England know what they need is a win and points and that will be enough motivation. Italy, on the other hand, have had a terrible tournament and heading to Twickenham does not help their campaign. Expect the English to come out firing. England will win by 15 points.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Brad Shields, 5 George Kruis, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Nathan Hughes, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Henry Slade.
Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Michele Campagnaro, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Braam Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Federico Ruzza, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 David Sisi, 20 Jake Polledri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Castello.
Date: Saturday, March 9
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT; 17.45 Italy time)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Source: rugby365com & AFP